We’re far from the shallow now, and things are getting murky, dark, and deep as Mare of Easttown nears its conclusion with penultimate episode “Sore Must Be the Storm.” What are the Rosses hiding? And yes, I said “the Rosses,” not just Billy Ross, because I’m not entirely convinced that Billy Ross is DJ’s father. I think we can’t ignore John Ross, and think “Sore Must Be the Storm” is full of enough intentional obfuscation that we’re not meant to ignore John Ross, either.
Now that Katie and Missy have been found and returned home to their families, Erin’s story is the central remaining question of Mare of Easttown. There are two questions here: The first is identifying who DJ’s biological father is, and the second is identifying who killed Erin. And I think there are different answers to those questions, and I think Mare of Easttown is purposefully laying down clues that point in disparate directions.
The evidence! Let us go over it for both brothers. Re: Billy, we’ve seen that he’s looked increasingly haggard over the past few weeks. He acted all weird during the discussion of how long Erin stayed with him. The brothers’ father Pat Ross (Gordon Clapp) says that on the night of Erin’s murder, Billy came home wounded and covered in blood, threw his clothes in the washer, and hasn’t talked about the night since. Oh, and he’s drinking a lot. So: Billy Ross, clearly anguished, and, I think, probably did kill Erin. I can believe that admission.
But: Is Billy DJ’s biological father? This is where I think no, and this is where I turn toward John Ross. Think of the conversation John has with Billy about the family reunion: He mentioned “what went on up there.” Not who did whatever with Erin, and not that Billy specifically did something with Erin. He forces Billy to confess to killing Erin, but not to statutory rape and impregnation of Erin. That feels like a significant point that is left out! And think of the jewelry order slip Mare sees for that heart pendant, engraved with the 5-29-2017 date of the Ross family reunion that Kenny and Erin attended. The necklace was ordered by someone with the last name Ross, but there was no first name given — which leaves open the John possibility. And also keep in mind that everything Lori knows about what happened to Erin, John told her. John told her that Billy was with Erin. John told her that Billy fathered DJ. John told her that Billy killed Erin. But what if John was the one who abused Erin and John was the one who fathered DJ, but Billy killed Erin to protect his older brother?
I think that’s a serious possibility! I am sticking with this theory! Billy says to John, “Nothing’s the matter with me. You made a mess of your life because you couldn’t keep your dick in your fucking pants. Now you clean it up.” What if that’s not just a comment about Sandra, the woman John is cheating on Lori with, but Erin, too? Billy’s resentment toward John comes up then, and later on when they’re going up to Pat’s fishing spot: Billy glares at John while they drive, Billy glares at John while they fish. There is something going on between them that Billy holds against John, and I don’t think it’s that John is forcing him to confess to killing Erin. I think whatever is happening here is long-ingrained, and long-simmering.
And yet, I really have no idea at all what Dylan, Sean, and Jess did. “The three of us, we’re joined together forever,” Dylan says before he pulls a gun on Jess and threatens her with, “Don’t open your fucking mouth again, or you’re gonna end up with your face blown off, just like Erin.” But what did they do? Deacon Mark, forced to come clean to Chief Carter after Father Dan goes to the police with what he knows about Mark seeing Erin on the night she died, sticks to his story. He drove Erin to the park, he let her out, and then he went home with her bike still in his car. (Why didn’t Erin take the bike with her?) But we have so much missing time after that drop-off, and I can’t work out in my mind how whatever Dylan, Jess, and Sean did overlaps with whatever Billy Ross did. Show us the picture that Jess took from Dylan’s journals, dammit! That cliffhanger is driving me crazy!
Before these plot reveals, “Sore Must Be the Storm” spends a fair amount of time with Mare, whose grief and guilt over Colin’s death are obvious. Her face while watching news footage about Colin, who Chief Carter calls “a son, a friend, a protector,” is a frozen mask. What did she really expect when she went to see Colin’s mother? Of course this woman hates her, and of course she was going to attack her and call her out on how her obsessive desire to solve this case put Colin in danger: “You think you can just go through life, do whatever the hell you want, and not have any consequences?” That admonishment is a reality check for Mare. She admits “I gotta get my shit together.” She lets Drew go with Carrie for their first sleepover. She accepts that hug from Dawn. She has a conversation with Frank that doesn’t end in a fight. She has a breakthrough with her psychiatrist, admitting her struggles with anxiety, depression, and self-loathing, and sharing the memory of how Siobhan found Kevin’s body after his suicide. This has to be the scene Winslet submits for Emmy consideration, right? Her monologue was wonderfully delivered and achingly sad; I particularly liked how she never made eye contact while telling the story, instead staring off into the distance. “He was so heavy” made me tear up.
This recounting explains some of Siobhan’s hatred toward Mare, and also hammers home a Tolstoy-esque theme that Mare of Easttown seems to be working into every subplot: Every unhappy family has its own textures, layers, and frictions. And coupled with the small-town claustrophobia of Easttown and with the omnipresent opioid epidemic, that unhappiness only calcifies. Mare finds Freddie’s body, dead from an overdose, and has to break the news to Beth. Kenny’s abuse of Erin was an open secret in the Ross family. John and Billy both knew about whatever happened between either of them at the reunion with Erin. And then John tries to cajole Lori into keeping all of this a secret from Mare. How rich of this man to say, “Can you do that for our family?” when his infidelity, and inclusion of his son Ryan into the lie, nearly broke that same family apart!
I’ll admit that I was disappointed in Lori for not immediately calling Mare to tell her what she knew, and for initially trying to abide by John’s dictate when Mare came over to ask her questions about the pendant, and for referring to whatever incestuous dynamic Erin was involved in as a “relationship.” Erin was being abused. Erin was underage. She was not in a “relationship” with whoever was abusing her, and Lori should have known better.
But maybe it’s impossible for people to change. Maybe it’s too much to ask of Lori for her to turn her back on her husband after she’s forgiven him for cheating before, and after kicking him out seemed like such a difficult move for her to make in the first place. Maybe it’s too much to expect Mare to really “pull over and wait for backup,” as Chief Carter orders her to do while she’s driving up to the Lehigh River to confront Billy and John. Mare is tying up “loose ends,” as she said to Dylan earlier, and she’s not going to stop until she arrests Erin’s killer. For Colin — and for herself.
A Different Line of Work
• Jean Smart’s Helen giving the middle finger to reporters: very on brand.
• Brianna’s mom Patty (Connie Giordano) seems like as good of a mother as Dylan’s; I appreciated her nudging her husband Tony (Eric T. Miller) to apologize to Mare about his whole threatening-and-milk-throwing thing. Maybe Brianna will grow into a better adult?
• “I’m 52 years old and I’m living in Easttown, so I’d say your odds are pretty good.” I don’t think Richard is a forever guy for Mare, but someone to have fun with for a little while? That seems like enough. Give him a call when you’re ready, lady, after you work through that gift basket of beer, hoagies, and cheesesteaks! Also, this is your reminder that Guy Pearce wasn’t originally cast in the show; he replaced Ben Miles, who left because of scheduling conflicts. It feels like Richard was at the top of a lot of “Who killed Erin?” lists because Pearce is such a notable cast member, but I never really got the vibe that the story wanted us to suspect him. (… I type this hoping that I am not totally disproved in the finale!)
• If Drew drowned in that bathtub, I really would have thrown something at my TV.
• I do not understand why Jess thought she could outrun Dylan and Sean in their car … when she was only like 10 feet away from the front door of her apartment building when they confronted her. Just go back into your building!
• All of my sympathies toward Pat Ross, whose complaint “This isn’t exactly how I imagined my retirement, boarding with my two grown sons” feels like just the tip of the iceberg in terms of family tragedy.
• And all of my sympathies toward Siobhan, too. Angourie Rice’s delivery of “It should have been you, not me” was very pained and very good.